1. Give up being an expert.
Whether you are an expert in finance, technology, risk management or anything else – do not spend your energy establishing your technical credentials. Subject matter experts are more common than people with meaningful breadth. Be matter of fact about your background then move on.
2. Describe what value you add, not how you add it.
Talk about what outcomes and results you have contributed to. Results are impressive – methodology isn’t. Avoid the trap of identifying yourself as occupying a particular role, such as “devils advocate” – everyone on a board should be capable of taking an opposing view when necessary, boards aren’t looking people who are stuck in this or any method or role.
3. Craft a bio that contains stunning outcomes and describes breadth.
Even very smart people struggle with writing a compelling, one page biography. Get help if you need it but don’t spend hours editing your own and do not hire someone to help you because they are a good writer. This is a tool to market yourself – you need help from someone who writes well and who can clearly describe your value. This is not the time to be coy – boldly declare your value!
4. Become a student of governance in formal and informal ways.
Director colleges are everywhere these days. Some are good, some aren’t. Find one with a reasonable reputation and go. Then, if you are not already on a not-for-profit board, get on one so that you can exercise your knowledge and influencing skills with your colleagues.
5. Don’t listen to unsolicited feedback.
Most of us have friends, colleagues and seatmates on airplanes who will give us an opinion on virtually anything – often unsolicited. Avoid listening to unsolicited feedback – it’s usually given for the benefit of the sender. Do not ask people who are not successful themselves for advice.
6. Build relationships.
Boards are groups of human beings working to achieve a common goal. They form relationships with one another. Who wants to have a member or several who are difficult or unwilling to contribute to a collegial environment? As one director said to me – “no turkeys allowed.” Blunt for sure.
Through your involvement in governance groups – NACD for example, build relationships over time. Give of yourself, look for ways to add value and allow others to get to know you.